Rediscovering Lost Superfoods: A Guide to Cooking With Millets

5 min read
Hindi Female

It was magical to watch my grandmother pat a ball of bajra dough to make a perfect roti on a hot griddle.

She flattened it smooth, applied water, expertly flipped, sprinkled some sesame seeds, and pressed lightly to embed them.

It then landed on the plate with a generous blob of homemade butter. To say it was delicious or yummy would be an injustice to its taste. The warm roti with roasted sesame seeds drizzling with butter made us smile, laugh, and happy, a heartsome experience of wholesome food.

A few years back millets formed an important part of the Indian diet. Bajra or pearl millet was an essential part of the winter diet. Other millets like jowar, ragi and sama were also consumed regularly.

These got replaced by the dominant production of rice and wheat and totally disappeared from the Indian urban platter.

Sadly, this resulted in compromising our varied and nutrient-rich diets in favour of refined grains.

It also ignored the importance of eating local food for optimum health. Slowly, the indigenous foods were neglected and were forgotten.

What History Says

Millets are grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for food and fodder. Evidence has been found that millets were cultivated in the Korean Peninsula around 3,500–2,000BC.

Yajurveda mentions foxtail millet (priyangava), Barnyard millet (aanava) and black finger millet (shyaamaka) which indicates that millets were a common food in those times.

Scientific research has proved that millets are healthy. Regular consumption of these grains can help you to maintain good health and safeguard from lifestyle diseases.

Recently, The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution, sponsored by India and supported by more than 70 countries, declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets.


Kinds of Millets

Millets are divided into two categories—major and minor millets.

“The major millets are grown in abundance and more widely used”, explains Certified Nutrition Coach and co-founder of Naturally Yours, Priya Prakash.

“Sorghum, Jowar (Great millet) Bajra (Pearl millet) and Ragi (Finger millet) are Major Millets.Navane (Foxtail millet), Saame (Little millet), Haraka (Kodo millet), Baragu (Proso millet) and Udlu (Barnyard millet) are the Minor Millets.”
Priya Prakash, Certified Nutrition Coach and Co-Founder of Naturally Yours

Nutritional Value

Millets are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, dietary fibre, B-Vitamins, minerals like calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.

They reduce blood sugar, thyroid problems, cardiovascular and celiac diseases and regulate blood pressure. These grains are also gluten-free.

Including a variety of millets is beneficial. Finger millet is a rich source of calcium, while jowar contains potassium and phosphorous. Foxtail is rich in fibre and Kodo has iron.


How to Start?

The problem with our diet today is that by imitating the West we have removed traditional foods like dosa, idly, poha upma and dal, roti, sabzi from our plates.

Instead, we opt for a cheese sandwich for breakfast, pasta for lunch and pizza or burger for dinner. In between when hunger strikes, we gorge on packaged and processed food like chips and deep-fried food.

Well-known nutritionist Dr Anjali Mukherjee, says in her book ‘Healing with Food’ - "If only eating wholesome Indian foods like jowar, bajra, vegetables, fruits and nuts become trendy, we'd soon have a healthy teenage population."

Introducing millets to kids at a young age helps to acquire a taste and liking. However, it should be a gradual process. "Food diversity should be your basis for healthy eating. Completely replacing rice and wheat with millets is not advisable," explains, Priya.

Substituting rice with little or foxtail millet, twice or thrice a week works because the texture and cooking properties of these two millets are like rice, she adds.

Millet rotis were quite common in the past. You can try including ragi, jowar or bajra rotis once a week. However, making these rotis needs some practice.

Priya suggests mixing the millet flours with wheat flour to make the process easie


According to her a variety of rice-based dishes like lemon rice, curd rice, biryani with little and foxtail millets can be made. These grains can be cooked as plain millet rice and consumed with any dal or vegetable curry; she explains.

In a study conducted by ICRISAT, Hyderabad revealed that mixing millets with legumes improved the quality of the protein as the proportion of essential amino acids in millets and legumes complemented each other.

Millet porridge is considered a great food for growing kids and aging adults. There are a lot of millet mixes available in the market like porridge, dosa, idly and dhokla.

Products like millet chakli, roasted and popped millet snacks are also available.

Simple Recipes

Apart from the porridge and rotis, you can make idly, dosas, dhoklas, chillas, khichadi and halwas. Millet flours are also used for baking now a days.

  • Jowar Ambali Rceipe

Ragi and jawar ambali is a favourite drink in the southern part of India. It is cooling drink.


  • 5 tbsp jowar flour
  • 500 ml water
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp green chilli, ginger and garlic paste
  • 1.5 cups butter milk
  • 3 tbsp chopped onion (optional)
  • 1 tsp curry leaves chopped
  • Salt to taste


  • Mix the flour with little water and make a smooth paste.
  • Boil water in a pan.
  • Add cumin powder, salt, and let it cook.
  • Add ginger, garlic, chilli paste and boil.
  • Slowly add the jowar paste and stir well.
  • Cook for 5-7 minutes until the required consistency is reached.
  • Remove from gas and let it cool.
  • Add buttermilk, chopped onion (optional)and crushed curry leaves.
  • You can have it for breakfast or in the evening.
  • Ragi ambali can also be made by this method.

Cooking Millets

Soaking and roasting millets reduces the cooking time and activate the enzyme phytase that breaks down the phytic acid and helps in the easy absorption of minerals like iron, calcium, and zinc.

Priya suggests soaking millet for at least 6 hours.

If you are planning to cook millets for breakfast soak the grains overnight for easy and fast cooking, says Tapas Chandra Roy, Certified Farm Advisor on Millets. He shares many interesting millet recipes on his YouTube Channel .

Millets can be cooked in a pressure cooker.

The water ratio for cooking millets according to Priya for Soaked Millet is 1 : 1.5 cups of water and for unsoaked millet is 1 : 2 cups of water.

Soaked millet gets cooked in 2-3whistles while unsoaked requires 3 or 4 whistles.


Cooking Ideas

  • Cook Little or Foxtail millet like plain rice and eat with dal/curry.
  • Millet khichdi made with foxtail millet, moong dal and fresh vegetables makes a healthy as well as a delicious meal.
  • Cook Little or Foxtail millet like lemon rice, curd rice or biryani.
  • Ragi can be used to make a porridge, a sweet or savoury beverage and idly and dosas
  • Make a kheer with Barnyard /kodo millet with coconut milk and jaggery.
  • Add curd to cooked Barnyard millet and season it like curd rice
  • Kodo millet methi pulao
Millets are hardy crops and have evolved to survive in harsh conditions without any human intervention. They improve the fertility and texture of soils and there beneficial for farmers.

As the Millet Foundation rightly says these grains are environmentally, ecologically, and economically friendly sources of food and nutrition.

Try experimenting with recipes to find suitable recipes for the three main meals in a day. These ancient grains were a part of our everyday diet in the past and with some effort we can bring them back on our plates.


(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting, and travel.)

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Topics:  Indian food   Diet   Recipes 

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